Album Reviews

Sills and Smith No Way In No Way Out

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Electric eclectic folk rock is one way to describe the textured sound of the new CD by Ottawa based duo Sills and Smith. The fifteen song collection is a musical and lyrical journey deftly produced by multi talented and multi instrumentalist Jonathan Edwards. Recorded at Edwards’ Corvidae Music in Ottawa is a ‘thinking man’s” CD ,with introspective , probing and thought provoking lyrics backed by airy, creative tracks of acoustic, slide and electric guitars, bass, drums and keys.

All tracks were written by Frank Smith, Jeremy Sills and Jonathan Edwards with all the lyrics written by Frank Smith. Smith handles the vocals and Sills plays guitars, acoustic and electric and vocals while Edwards plays guitars, bass, keyboards and drums.

JAPANDROIDS: Celebration Rock



There’s something very right with the universe when the best snot rock record in ages is put out by a couple of dudes pushing 30. That would be singer/guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, collectively known as Japandroids.and with Celebration Rock they’ve delivered an aptly titled, fundamental rock album that stands tall in the genre.
How’d they do it?

By putting out an album almost exactly the same as the one that blew up for them, only better. Same number of songs, same fuzzed out noise pop, same impassioned vocals, with a running time just ten seconds longer than the debut.
Just the one major change and it’s way for the better, the songs are written from personnae viewpoints, they’re not just about life as a Japandroid, grippng though that is.

The Vancouver based duo broke out in 2009 via the rousing noise pop of debut album Post-Nothing the success of which was a surprise to all concerned. See, after years of treading water, Japandroids figured to hit 'delete' after the release of Post Nothing. Instead, they found themselves suddenly Pitchforked and Blendered into indie stardom.

Aengus Finnan: North Wind

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Aengus Finnan North Wind is available through Borealis Records, whose slogan is ‘The Best in Canadian Folk Music’ and Aengus Finnan truly fits that description.

A charming CD, that has all the Celtic criteria in every song; getting the stories across mixed with fabulous ‘kitchen party’ musicians on the well mixed and produced tracks. Born in Dublin, Ireland then raised in Canada, Aengus Finnan has the unique way of drawing you into his songs and making them come alive.

Track # 1 ‘Rollin’ Home’ captures the pictures of backroad trips with the live movie rolling by your window. You can almost smell the Canadian countryside, with wheat and corn and idle cows and horses in the fields. ‘Ruins’ continues along that vein of thought with the comment on the CD liner saying “If You Ate Today….Thank a Farmer.” ‘Swing Boys Swing’ was inspired when Finnan walked along an overgrown railroad track and the ghosts of workers long gone could be heard saying “Swing Boys Swing, God Speed Your Hammers.” Tackling a traditional and adding some lyrics, Finnan has done a great rendition of ‘Lost Jimmy Whelan’, a young shanty boy who drowned in the 1878 log drive at King’s Chute near Pembroke, Ontario.

‘My Heart Has Wings’ is a love song and ‘Apple Blossom Tyme’ is a young lad’s first memories of Canada, chasing after summer workers on trucks, hoping to get a dropped apple or two. ‘Sandy’s Story’ is one that will take you back to a time when tales were told in front of fireplaces and families kept the stories going.

COLD SPECKS: I Predict A Graceful Expulsion


Arts & Crafts

Al Spx started showing up on stages in the T.Dot last year behind major hype and packing a soulful, idiosyncratic vocal style to back it up. This was well in advance of the retro soul revival currently underway and the artists now known as Cold Specks caused a major splash with her hard to pin down and often raw style.

Simultaneously she could sound old time rickety and blues gal from outer space; she could reconcile the beautiful with the strident, as brilliantly demonstrated on  “Steady”.

Nor does the songwriting lack in ambition or scope. From the intimate and soul bearing to the anthemic and soul searing, the is the music of intent.“”Holland” has a subtext relevant to the black experience in Europe, where Cold Specks made its initial impact,  “Blank Maps’’ with its refrain of “I am, I am/A goddamn believer” is a grabber, anthemic one moment, down to the ground the next, “Winter Solistice” weaves Gospel into a modernist soul setting.

She’s a skiiled lyricist, adept at layering unstated meanings with highly evocative imagery but it’s the voice that makes it all happen. A singular thing with few contemporary reference points, it echoes all the way to the Delta and Odetta, Leadbelly and “Mississippi Goddam” seen through a modernist, indie prism. Or to put it another way, both Feist and Nick Cave are gonna  love this.

Call it Goth Soul and you’re not far off the mark.

Lenny Stoute

The Royal Crowns Volume 3


The Royal Crowns, Toronto’s favorite roots/rockabilly/party band, recently held two nights of a CD Release party, and the place was packed in anticipation of this much awaited new offering titled simply: Volume Three.

Original members guitarist-singer Danny Bartley,(former member of Shotgun Shack and the Razor Backs) and drummer-singer-professional wisecracker Teddy Fury (former member of the seminal rockabilly band the Bopcats) recruited Jason Adams in 2010, fellow pomade aficionado from Buffalo NY on the upright bass, and the rejuvenated swing/surf/rockabilly/country/roots band sprung into their third decade raring to go. With Volume One and Volume Two behind them, this band has enough creative to release a baker’s dozen if they should chose to do so.

Suzanne Nuttall: I See Wild Horses (Indie)

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Suzanne Nuttall, formerly of the band Bare Bones, has released her first record as a solo artist. The self penned ‘I See Wild Horses’ is the song Suzanne has chosen to introduce herself with and what a great choice this turned out to be. It has all the hooks necessary to get your attention and then to hold it, as she weaves her way through the complicated, and at times disturbing, path of self discovery, all done with an emotional and heartfelt vocal.

Her years in Bare Bones have served her well and she is now ready to embrace her solo career and find a niche she is comfortable with and that will allow her to connect with her audience with her honest direct songs.

Nuttall, who cites early Motown and soul music as  her big influences, plans on releasing a series of singles, “ Just like they did in the sixties!” she said while explaining her concept. (An album will be released containing the singles at a later date.)

‘I See Wild Horses’ is available on iTunes, and CD Baby, as an acoustic version and a full band version, which features some excellent musicians including guitar whiz Bob Cohen.

Give this tune a listen, it will draw you in and make you want hear it again and even more importantly, you’ll want to hear what else this soulful songstress  from Montreal has to say!

Well done Suzanne, looking forward to hearing your next recording.

Don Graham

Billy J White Country Drag Strip

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This refreshing, baby-faced singer might be Burlington born, but he is Nashville bound. His EP, “Country Drag Strip” is his first offering to music fans, but it won’t be his last.
His rural childhood included a love and education of music from an early age, and he was surrounded by generations of his family who played many guitars, harmonicas and percussive instruments, inspiring Billy to join in.

Title track of the EP “Country Drag Strip” makes you want to grab the dog, grab your friends and load into the truck and cruise on down the road, singing loud and strong. (with the Billy J White air freshener tag that came with the CD, flying in the rearview mirror) “She Has the Only Heart” captures the whimsical, romantic side of this future superstar, and CB’s personal favourites  “Rebel Without a Cause”, “The Girl Im Looking For”, “BBQ” are truly great tunes.

In the true country tradition of great male vocalists such as George Strait, Alan Jackson and even a little Travis Tritt, Billy J encompasses the brilliance of today’s best.

If you don’t find Billy singing, songwriting, or playing guitar, then look for him under the nearest hot-rod, whistling and wrenching.

Watch out for this rising star – he is sure to be shining bright in the near future.

Sandy Graham

Paul Reddick: Wishbone


On which the durable blues shouter reinvents himself via the trad wayward wandering man persona.

Like the press jive says, “ Wishbone is a mythical character who walks through the night, meets all the lonely people, discovers strangers in strange places and keeps moving”. Full credit, Reddick does a fine job of fleshing out the ghostly outline.

The opener “Photograph” sets the roughed-up and ramblin’ mood in gravel-gargling tones just down the road from Tom Waits’. The backing unit is fully in the moment, propping up Reddick with a splintered wall of spooky swamp rock presaging things to come. Thi is the vibe sustained by Reddick’s backing crew of genre stalwarts including guitarist Kyle Ferguson drummer Kevin Warren and keyboardist/vocalist Maia Davies.

From there it’s onto dusty roads and tales of strange folk in straight situations and vice versa. For local blues fans, think Catl with the theatrical flair of Hugh Dillon.

Mares of Thrace: The Pilgrimage


Sonic Unyon Metal

Heavy as Motorhead and hotter than Nicki Minaj, the wimmin of Mares Of Thrace will kick your ass and rip your debit card should you be caught up in The Pilgrimage. It’s the second album from the Calgarian duo of guitarist/vocalist Thérèse Lanz (who plays a custom built baritone guitar with both guitar and bass pickups) and drummer Stef MacKichan.

The pair were core members of now-defunct Kilbourne and the good effects of all that playing together is reflected in the high quality of the musicianship. MOT likes to tackle large themes; transformation, journeys, the construction of internal landscapes. In doing so they're evolving a creepy, hypnotic doom drone, snarling with slashes of noise rock sound that’s getting them a significant profile.

Produced Sanford Parker chose to focus on the musicianship, creating a wraparound sound at once dense and spacious while still allowing for the tasty bits to shine through. Lanz’s custom guitar creates for a menacing soundscape with rolling waves of doom metal riffage, perfectly complimented by drummer MacKichan knack for swift mood and time changes which at times set up some awesome dynamics.

PS I Love You: Death Dreams


Paper Bag

The heavy heavies are alive and well in Canada and about to bomb the rest of the continent. Leading the charge straight outa Kingston is PS I Love You, a duo with a sound big as Mastodon and in love with the madness of guitar rock. When axeman Paul Saulnier gets to wailing, he steps way outside the canon of heavy metal to references diverse as J.Mascis and Tom Verlaine. Living up to its title, Death Dreams showcases the duo’s dark sides, in many ways the flip to 2010’s debut Meet Me at the Muster Station. That stomping, beer foaming wreck room party of an album put them on the radar courtesy of a shortlisting for the Polaris Prize and cemented by glowing reviews all up and down the Webscape.

So they could have easily dropped Meet Me… 2.0 and it likely would have been well received. Nuff respect for not doing the obvious and instead, digging down deeper and darker. The lyrics drag ennui down to the level of despair, even as the guitars alternately grind and soar, fuzzed-out and wash wah-ed as that massive drum sound does things to your sternum.

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